Digital Voyager – Abstract Spaces デラックス (2015)

Abstract Spaces デラックス was released by Digital Voyager on the Bandcamp label Ailanthus Recordings. Of the many vaporwave labels on Bandcamp, AR is by far the most diverse and experimental. Generally, Beer on the Rug hosts a handful of Ramona Andra Xavier’s work in addition to releases that are similar in style, Dream Catalogue houses hazy dreamscapes, and Business Casual focuses on future funk. Ailanthus Recordings has released music in a wide array of styles and tend to cater to the polar extremes of vaporwave as a whole. Corporate jazz albums such as Donovan Hikaru’s Business Travel Bonanza lay alongside the punk-based Fjords releases (volumes II, IV, and V). I guarantee that if you dig through this fascinating music niche you’re bound to find something that interests you.

Abstract Spaces デラックス is an interior design project by the fictional companies Osaka Interior Design LTD and Fukuoka Mall Design Services. The album’s subtext draws the listener in through describing the different spaces available for purchase: “From cutting edge Lasertag Arenas and Underwater Computer Lounges to relaxing Arts and Crafts Centers…you’re guaranteed to find the right space for you. Take a walk through the malls of the future, today!” Each of the spaces described in this text are showcased throughout the album.

The tracks on Abstract Spaces デラックス come from keyboard demos from the 80s and 90s, apart from one original song. Digital Voyager made this album as “[an] homage but also made to express my fascination for the quaint corporate soundtracks of the 90s.” This album is presented in a very professional manner, very much like a showroom. The opening track welcomes the listener to the world of digital interior design (“Introducing Your New Spaces!”) whereas the closing track nicely concludes everything and wishes the listener to return (“See You Soon!”).

The corporate jazz compositions on this album are a solid, digital representation of the sounds and styles that they emulate. “Underwater Computer Lounge 2000 オンライン!” is composed in the style of a MIDI-based jazz big band. In jazz, there is a common improvisational style known as “trading”. While improvising over a chorus, musicians will sometimes “trade 8’s” or “trade 4’s”, meaning that they will alternate improvising in 8 or 4-bar groups, respectively. In this track, a saxophone and a synthesizer trade 2’s. Because the sax is panned to the right and the synth is panned to the left, a pseudo-stereo image is created.

Going along with the idea of imagery, the two-part jungle tracks are really neat. The tracks “JUNGLE シミュレータ (Dawn)” and “JUNGLE シミュレータ (Dusk)” are placed back-to-back so as to create a cohesive final image for the listener. Both tracks accurately capture the intended atmosphere.

Everything about this album stirs up nostalgia for me. From the early graphic design and Solo Cup “Jazz” patterns that decorate the cover to the Rugrats sample in “クリエイティブ ARTS AND CRAFTS CENTER”, it’s hard not to feel like you’re in the 90s. Abstract Spaces デラックス truly is a hidden gem in the world of vaporwave and nostalgic culture.

Favorite Track: Underwater Computer Lounge 2000 オンライン!

Digital Voyager - Abstract Spaces デラックス

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G A M E S H A R K ™ – SHARK 2 パラサイトシングル (2015)

SHARK 2 パラサイトシングル was released in June of 2015 on the up-and-coming vaporwave label Midnight Moon Tapes. As the name suggests, MMT specializes in releasing experimental vaporwave and other electronic music on cassette tapes. This album has a lot of neat compositions on it. Unlike other vaporwave artists that I’ve heard, G A M E S H A R K ™ uses samples of orchestral excerpts. This simple difference in stylistic approach to contemporary vaporwave makes for a very interesting release.

SHARK 2 パラサイトシングル opens in a very interesting way. Compared to the movie dialogue and teaser track that started Saint Pepsi’s Hit Vibes and the extremely experimental and other-worldly sounds of Sacred Tapestry’s Shader, “Time” is almost exclusively acoustic and orchestral. Throughout the minute-long intro, a dissonant guitar arpeggio plays in time with a ticking clock. The monotonous sound of the clock along with the other instruments creates somewhat of an existential crisis for the listener. “Time” is different, but it works. How else is a shark with a martini supposed to make you feel?

“Sedated”, the album’s first shot at contemporary vaporwave, is a really neat composition. G A M E S H A R K ™ follows in the footsteps of many vaporwave artists before them in the way this track is composed. This track begins with skipping low-end samples at various speeds before settling into a cohesive rhythm. Throughout the song, there are distant voices in the extreme left or extreme right channels. You can’t quite make out what they’re saying, but it’s made obvious that someone is there. The vocal samples share sonic space with other glitchy sounds, all of which are run through a high-pass filter in order to sharply contrast the existing bass line. Having such high-frequency sounds and chirps in only one channel can be jarring at times, but overall the effect is fairly nice.

One part of the album that confused me was the implied duality between “Desolate” and “Isolate”. The two tracks are stylistically polar opposites, and yet they are placed in conjunction with one another on the album. “Desolate” is a worldly orchestral composition, whereas “Isolate” is almost exclusively electronic. Parts of the latter track seem to manipulate acoustic instruments themselves or alter existing recordings of them. The tracks on their own sound nice, but I’m not entirely sure whether or not they have anything to do with one another.

More often than not, the samples on this album aren’t altered much. While I’m not opposed to compositions without chopping or looping, the effects used at the very end of “Closed” makes me wish this idea was expanded on. Until this point in the album, very few acoustic-based samples were altered. To me, “Clouded” seems like a great fragment of an idea in the form of a 46-second sequel to “Introspection”.

The highlight of this album is its final track, “Existential”. Though instrumentally very simple, this track functions very well as a pleasant and conclusive ending to the album. Like “Sedated”, there’s a distant voice speaking about something the listener can’t quite grasp.

SHARK 2 パラサイトシングル is a really interesting album. While the songs themselves are nice on their own, the sporadically different styles across this album were unexpected, though not quite out-of-place. The track titles vaguely convey themes of existentialism and general ill-being, the content of the songs don’t always reflect these ideas. As stated before, the back-to-back songs “Desolate” and “Isolate” feel like they should mean something more, but they don’t. If they do, it’s incredibly subtle. Despite these thematic irregularities, I enjoyed listening to this album.

Favorite Track: Existential

G A M E S H A R K ™ - SHARK 2 パラサイトシングル

Saint Pepsi – Hit Vibes (2013)

After a whir of bubbly synths and slap bass set the tone, a can of soda is cracked open and a voice proudly proclaims “It’s Saint Pepsi, bitch!” Saint Pepsi was the recording name used by Ryan DeRobertis for a series of Bandcamp releases from 2012 to early 2014. Currently, DeRobertis produces music under the alias Skylar Spence. Hit Vibes was released under the Bandcamp label KEATS//COLLECTIVE in May of 2013. Hit Vibes falls under the category of future funk, a sub-genre of vaporwave. The aesthetic and musical roots of future funk are almost identical to vaporwave. The genre as a whole has a fascination with lo-fi sounds and the revival of old songs. In this case, the source material typically stems from 70s funk and disco songs that are re-hashed and sped up to make more upbeat and danceable tracks.

The intro track, “Hit Vibes”, is one of the greatest intro tracks I’ve ever heard. The brief dialogue at the beginning perfectly sets the tone and creates a great deal of hype for what’s to come. Luxury, fine clothes, and parties are just a small taste of what Saint Pepsi has to offer on this album. This minute-long teaser grabs the listener’s attention and entices them to listen further.

Hit Vibes showcases a handful of revived dance tunes that have been edited, chopped, and enhanced to be poppy and danceable in this day and age. From standard disco tunes like “Have Faith” and “Better” to the hard synth wave and funk styles used in “Cherry Pepsi” and “Around”, the aesthetics and musical endgame are identical. The idea of bringing back hits — or even lesser-known B-sides — and making them appealing to a younger audience today is remarkable. This creates a split meaning of the album title: The songs on the album deliver vibes that are a hit, or the vibes on this album come from the dated hits that they sample.

The constant drive of upbeat dance tunes are periodically given a break with more traditional vaporwave songs such as “Together”, “Interlude”, and “Miss You”. The steady breaks in the energy work well in pacing the album as a whole. Although they are stylistically different and their source materials greatly differ, these slow-jam tracks are comparable to early vaporwave songs through their use of drawn-out samples. Of course, vaporwave (and future funk, for that matter) don’t have to sound a certain way; similarities in compositional style don’t dictate what other artists in the genre have to do. As  t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 sarcastically stated, “Vaporwave is just slowed down music in Audacity.”

There’s no one way to compose anything. Vaporwave and future funk are no exception.

Hit Vibes is one of my favorite albums of all time. Each song is incredibly catchy and full of energy. The way that Saint Pepsi structures this album is phenomenal. After the intro track, the listener is thrown into a dance club. The upbeat and reworked dance tracks are perfectly framed by tamer more relaxing compositions. This isn’t far off from what a DJ would do when mixing a set for a dance. Having high-energy dance tracks interspaced with slower songs is more or less expected in that scene. If you’re into funk, disco, or dance music in general, Hit Vibes is essential.

Favorite Track: Have Faith

Honorable Mention: Around

Saint Pepsi - Hit Vibes

2 8 1 4 – 新しい日の誕生 (2015)

新しい日の誕生 is a collaboration album by Hong Kong Express and  t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者. It was released through Dream Catalogue in January of 2015 under the name 2 8 1 4. Hong Kong Express and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 are owner and co-owner of Dream Catalogue, respectively. After listening to Hong Kong Express and Telepath’s solo releases through Dream Catalogue, it’s not hard to hear their stylistic idiosyncrasies together as 2 8 1 4. Despite anonymity being a driving force in vaporwave, each artist’s contribution is evident on this release. While their individual take on vaporwave may be stylistically different from each other, 2 8 1 4 is an exceptional showcase of both artist’s mastery of their craft.

As with many Dream Catalogue releases, this album is incredibly cinematic. Each track seamlessly fades into the next and thematically carries the ideals and intents of both Hong Kong Express and Telepath. In 2 8 1 4, HKE’s fascination with romance, loneliness, and neon-filled cities share the foreground with Telepath’s themes of transcendence and lucid dreams.

新しい日の誕生 opens in a very grand manner. The first track, “恢复”, begins with a dreary and spacey piano line along with some soft dialogue for cinematic effect. The heavy bass track paired with piano ostinato make for a very melancholy effect. When comparing this track to the first track on Telepath’s 肉体からの離脱, one can hear the textural similarities in the way that he creates ambient dream-like sounds.

One thing I found somewhat humorous was the subtle shout-out to Telepath in the track “テレパシー”. The track title itself translates to “telepathy” whereas the Japanese characters in  t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 translate to “telepath”. This track is certainly the most “telepathic” in style. With the haze of rain-spattered windows and neon lights comes Telepath’s characteristic ambient synth work. In addition to city sounds, sirens, and echoing melodies, there are allusions to video games from time to time: arcade-like sound effects are used to build on the existing texture, evoking a sense of nostalgia. In the last thirty seconds of the track, everything fades out to allow the dialogue from the intro track to continue. This time, however, the female voice is joined by a man’s. Subtly, this rids the listener of a sense of loneliness and instills a bit of hope, building off of the album’s optimistic title, “The birth of a new day”.

新しい日の誕生 is a very creative, expressive, and original album that successfully exhibits the creative works of both collaborative artists. It’s exciting and encouraging to see that vaporwave is moving in such a positive direction. Since a handful of earlier vaporwave albums were mostly sample-based, hearing such a vast collection of original content is invigorating. This album — both historically and musically — is one of vaporwave’s essentials. Coming from a groundbreaking vaporwave label and some of the genre’s most innovative producers 新しい日の誕生 is definitely something to check out.

Favorite Track: 恢复 (Track 1)

2 8 1 4 - 新しい日の誕生

t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 – 肉体からの離脱 (2014)

t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 has been releasing material through their own Bandcamp label since September of 2013. In August of 2014, 肉体からの離脱 was released through Dream Catalogue on Bandcamp. The aesthetic and concept behind this album are etched and hidden behind Japanese characters; the album’s title, track titles, and album art are riddled with hidden meanings. The album’s title roughly refers to the idea of having an out-of-body-experience. In this album, t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 approaches this idea through a collection of neo-transcendentalist compositions.

The majority of the tracks on this album run more than twelve minutes each. The sheer length of each compositions allows for plenty of time for the listener to space out and transcend, as t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 intended. The first track, “わたしはあなたと共に時は時間がありません” does this exceptionally well. It starts off with a dreamy, muffled loop that becomes more and more clear as time goes on. The beginning syllable of a vocal part is separated and used as a recurring low-end accompaniment to the existing track. Soon after, a more complete segment of the vocal track is presented. Halfway through the thirteen-minute intro track, the chiming lo-fi idea is slowly expanded on. Does Philip Glass dream of minimalist sheep?

Following in the same compositional style of the intro track, “私の夢の女性との時空間連続体の外側の内部の心の肉体ビジョン” relentlessly alters the listener’s perception of time over the course of seventeen minutes. Despite there being no clear beat or time division, this composition seems to have some sense of order. Ideas that repeat themselves or loop for extended periods of time are done so in a very systematic and predictable fashion. You can’t exactly tap your foot to it, but that’s not exactly the point in this case. The motifs that begin to expand around 7:00 are really nice. Strings are introduced, time is warped and toyed with, and yet everything continues to progress forward and stay put all at once. Later in the track, a heavy beat in 5/4 provides some framework for the remainder of the track to rest on.

Conceptually, the idea of out-of-body-experiences isn’t far off from Ramona Andra Xavier’s approach to vaporwave through her various multi-monikered releases and consistent use of anonymity and self-separation as themes in her music. More on that idea here.

肉体からの離脱 rekindled my love for ambient and drone music. The way that t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 has approached vaporwave as an art movement is truly fascinating. Instead of adhering to a pre-existing structure or formula, they have created a unique and dreamy niche for themselves on Dream Catalogue. I really loved listening to this album and I highly recommend it.

Favorite Track: 私の夢の女性との時空間連続体の外側の内部の心の肉体ビジョン (Track 2)

t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 - 肉体からの離脱

Hong Kong Express – 浪漫的夢想 (2014)

“they meet at the same bar every night… he smokes his cigarette, she holds her drink and looks at him, they talk without speaking” – Album subtext

浪漫的夢想 was the first album to be released on the Bandcamp label Dream Catalogue. The style of this album and the formation of Dream Catalogue paved the way for many future vaporwave projects and helped the genre progress. The label’s music revolves around the idea that vaporwave doesn’t have to be about irony or capitalism. Instead, the goal is to tell a story through music. 浪漫的夢想 does precisely that.

As described by Hong Kong Express, 浪漫的夢想 is “A mysterious and romantic trip through the neon haze of a night in hong kong. A journey of subway carriages and fast cars, a love both lost and found, and a connection between souls.” Translating to “romantic dream”, this release conveys many contrasting emotions, leaving the listener in a torn state of mind. The most prevalent theme that Hong Kong Express uses is the parallel between intimacy and distance with regards to one’s love interest. At a glance, the song titles are relatively positive and convey a shallow — yet hopeful — glimpse at an untold romantic story. When listening to the songs, however, it’s hard not to feel alone.

The album starts with an introduction to a vague love interest, “Girl In The Lexus Showroom”. In this track, dystopian drawn-out sounds are used to make a mid-tempo shuffling beat. Like many of the other tracks on this album, sounds are reflected back and forth in a flurry of reverb. The melody, as played by a mallet instrument, is set up to be somewhat predictable. However, instead of going where the listener expects, they take a turn and hit a few extra notes in-between to add a tinge of dissonance.

On top of using lots of reverb, one recurring theme in Romantic Dream is how incredibly cinematic the music is. The only accompanying imagery the listener has is the album art and self-created mental images aided only by the song titles. One track that follows this style well is “Your drink, sir.” Throughout the composition, a heavy beat is slowly faded through high-pass and low-pass filters while indecipherable female vocals croon over the whole texture.

Another notable cinematic piece is “Central Station 中环站 (rapid transit on her heart)”. This track makes the listener feel like they’re listening to somebody perform music in a subway. The sound of electric guitar is soothing, yet distant in both proximity and emotion. The parallel of hearing the sounds of strangers on the subway and the distant noodling from the performer leaves the listener feeling hopelessly and utterly alone.

浪漫的夢想 is a gorgeous album. Thematically, the contrasting ideas of intimacy and solitude are conveyed very well throughout. In addition, each track has been very thoughtfully composed and works extraordinarily well in conjunction with each other. I highly recommend giving this album a listen.

Favorite Track: Girl In The Lexus Showroom

Hong Kong Express - 浪漫的夢想

PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises – ClearSkies™ (2013)

As a follow-up to the series of releases under New Dreams Ltd., Xavier released ClearSkies™ on April 20th, 2013 under the name PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises. Where Xavier’s previous releases as Macintosh Plus and Fuji Grid TV were primarily sample-based compositions, ClearSkies™ is mainly MIDI-based. The album as a whole is very pleasant to listen to and has a good number of tracks that can stand alone from the album collectively. The familiar sounds of rehashed stock music makes this release very easy and pleasant to listen to.

The first three tracks are very inviting and successfully establish a concept and theme for the album to build off of. The idea of delving into an artificial landscape in favor of reality is an interesting idea. This concept isn’t far from Eco Virtual’s philosophy on vaporwave as a genre: “…it does not matter where it came from or who made it, but rather that it takes you elsewhere, somewhere distant from reality.” The third track, “Menu” is a playful jingle that seems to say “Choose where you want to go!”, inviting the listener to take themselves elsewhere through the music to come. Welcome to the virtual plaza!

One interesting composition is entitled “Larry”, complete with a fake B3 organ, synthetic drums, and synthetic saxophones. This composition is a laid back Sega Genesis blues jam filled with industrial and inviting sounds, making the listener feel like they’re doing a side mission for some character in the junkyard of an old video game. Towards the end of the track, the blues jam breaks into a swing-era jazz band tune.

“Rec Virtua” is another very nice composition. It’s a 43-second jingle reminiscent of those found in in-game stores. At the very end, there’s a digital “ka-ching!” as an added ode to capitalism.

While ClearSkies™ is pleasant to listen to, either as individual tracks or as a whole, some of the compositions tend to blend together and are stylistically very similar. Only a handful of the tracks on this album really stand out. All of the tracks on this album are solid MIDI-based compositions and are a significant step forward from Laserdisc Vision’s New Dreams Ltd.. Amidst the 21 tracks of virtual reality soundtracks, only a select few are MIDI masterpieces.

Favorite Track: Rec Virtua

Honorable Mention: Larry

PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises - ClearSkies